"You know, Nemanja, we are doing such a thankless job, us police officers."

"What makes you say that, Pavle?" I asked.

"Why did you join the policija, Nemanja?" Pavle asked me back. "'To serve and to protect', right? Like what those Westerners put on their cars. To serve and protect our countrymen. But our countrymen… No, they don't like to be served and protected. No way. They want to do whatever the fuck they want. Why else would you think the anarchists have gotten so many people on their side right now?"

Pavle took another shot of vodka before he continued speaking. "And as for us policemen? They don't care at all," he said. "They all think that they are better off without us. They think we are useful idiots at best, and corrupt pigs at the worst, all of us. They don't care. They don't care," he mumbled repeatedly as the effects of the alcohol began to grow more noticeable on Pavle.

"Nemanja, why aren't you drinking?" Pavle asked. "Your glass looks like it's barely touched."

"I've still got duty at the plaza tomorrow morning," I replied. "Can't show up for duty looking obviously hungover, da?" Nevertheless I took a small slip from my glass and toasted him.

Pavle laughed gutturally and shook his head. "Never lose your sense of humor, Nemanja," he said. "Never lose your sense of humor."

((I don't see anything funny at all with what you said, in this context or in any other one,)) the voice in my head told me.

I ignored the voice and laughed along with Pavle, who continued drinking from his glass like there was no tomorrow. "I tell you, Nemanja, once the people see what's going to happen tomorrow, they're going to realize just how much they need us cops, and how those anarchists are going to be the end of us all."

((Aha! That's it!)) the voice in my head said. ((Come on then, ask him about it!))

((No, no, let's take it easy,)) I said. ((Pavle might get suspicious if I ask him about something I'm already supposed to know.))

((But what if you're supposed to not have any idea? Then it would be suspicious to not ask him about this.))

((Let's just wait and see, okay?)) I told the voice in my head.

"Another one!" Pavle shouted, and the bartender obliged by pouring more vodka into his glass. But instead of letting the bartender go on his merry way, Pavle snatched the bottle from the bartender's hand and drank straight from it. He coughed and groaned as the liquor made its way down his throat, but before he laid his head down on the bar he managed to say, "They have no idea what's coming for them. No idea."

((Ask him now,)) the voice in my head told me.

"Hey, Pavle," I said quietly. "What do you mean by that, huh?"

But Pavle remained silent. I tapped his shoulder to get his attention but the man still didn't move a muscle. I leaned in closer, and heard soft snores coming from Pavle's mouth. "Damn it," I muttered to myself.

The bartender walked up to where Pavle and I were seated and said, in English, "Looks like your friend has had too much to drink."

"Yeah, James, I know," I replied, also in English. "He always picks the wrong moment to get absolutely shitfaced."

"So, I guess you're gonna go for Option B."

"No other choice, man," I shrugged. ((Get ready,)) I told the voice in my head. I then stood up and tried to move Pavle's head around in such a way that his ear was exposed. It proved to be easier said than done, especially when the goal was to not wake him up. But eventually I got Pavle's right ear up and facing the right way. He was still snoring, quite comfortably asleep by the looks of things, but that could very well fall apart at any time. "Look," I told James. "I know that you hate seeing me do this, but if this guy fights back, I'm gonna need your backup."

"Goddamn it," James muttered. "Why did I have to draw the short stick this time? All right, fine. I'll do it. But just because you asked me nicely."

"All right, here goes," I muttered. I then touched my left ear to Pavle's right and then waited for the pain to start crawling out of my ear. The bartender winced as he watched, and he muttered, "Man, that really is disgusting."

"Hey man, nobody's forcing you to watch," I said back.

"Actually, I do. It's part of protocol, man. All right, I think he's in."

I disengaged from Pavle's ear and watched as the last piece of pencil-thin gray flesh slithered its way inside Pavle's head. Any moment I expected Pavle to jump up and begin screaming, but he remained still and snoring. "Five minutes," I muttered, and then I set the timer on my watch to sound off after that amount of time.

Five minutes came and went, and at any moment I expected a gray fleshy string to emerge from Pavle's ear. But one minute after my timer buzzed, nothing happened. And then one minute became two, and two became three. "Should I be worried right now?" James asked me.

"Not yet, but we're getting there," I admitted. "Seven minutes is the longest he's taken to find what he needs. Yassin, can you hear me?" I called out, but softly enough so as not to physically wake Pavle and make him realize the thing that was now crawling around in his head.

"What, is he trying to find every single secret this guy has ever had in his life?" James asked.

"Well, that's what he's been told to do," I shrugged. "Hey, Yassin! Come on, man! We need that intel."

A full forty-five seconds passed after that statement before something gray emerged from Pavle's ear. "There it is!" James called out, but then I reminded him to keep quiet with the universal gesture of an index finger to the lips. I then put my ear up against the gray thing and braced myself for what was to come.

I felt the start of an uncomfortable pressure in the opening of my ear canal, but just as quickly as it began it disappeared. I could still feel something moving around in my ear, but it felt like someone or something had squirted some painkiller inside. The thing crawled deeper and deeper into my ear until it felt like it was actually inside my head.

And then came the most terrifying part of the whole experience.

I lost control of my right foot. It was still there, attached to my leg, but it was now under the control of something else entirely. Then my tongue switched allegiances, and then other parts of my body in no particular order. That's the thing that really gets me. It's never the same every time he comes back.

"Hey man," James asked me. "You all right?"

I couldn't reply immediately to his question. Not because I didn't want to, but because I literally couldn't even if I tried. My body was no longer under my control. At that moment I was a mere passenger in my own flesh. And then my mouth opened on its own, and the voice inside my head spoke to James through me. "It's confirmed," he said. "The Golden Hands are going to make their move tomorrow morning. They've already bribed and threatened the city policija into staying away from the plaza and not interfering with what they're planning to do."

"And Barbara?"

The voice in my head made me look James in the eye before replying. "You're not going to like it," he said.

My name is Alyosha Damiric.

I should probably tell you that this is not my real name. For reasons of both personal and national security, I cannot tell you my real name. The stories that I am about to tell you are about confidential operations carried out in the United States and throughout the globe, operations that for various reasons the United States government cannot ever admit to having done.

I am part of a top secret branch of the Department of Homeland Security known only as "The Project", and have been for the past ten years. Officially, the Project doesn't exist, and neither does its operatives. But we are here. You may see us in your everyday lives but you would never have known that we were part of the Project.

There is no reason for me to be writing down these stories. In fact, by writing them down I am breaking the oaths I swore to maintain the secrecy of the Project and its operations. But these are stories that people must know, for posterity if nothing else.

The Project doesn't just recruit people off the street willy-nilly either. It has very tight and selective criteria that immediately puts most people out of the question entirely. Of the few people who actually fit the criteria needed by the Project, even fewer are actually recruited into the branch. Nobody knows just how many of us are there in the Project, for purposes of operational security. I have personally met just two other operatives of the Project, and one of them is my immediate superior.

It's hard to say just what exactly the Project does. The Project has never executed any operation by itself; I have always been attached to CIA and FBI operations in an intelligence-gathering capacity. It's a kinder way of saying I interrogate persons of interest to uncover relevant intel for the operation to which I have been attached. But the way in which I gather intelligence is not exactly the kind that you would imagine it to be. I don't threaten to beat up or actually beat up the person I'm interrogating like Jack Bauer or the boys in Guantanamo; no, I prefer to stick a Yeerk into their heads. Well, one particular Yeerk, but we'll get to that later.

The mission that I am on right now has to do with the rescue of a CIA officer deep in hostile territory. This officer, let's call her "Barbara", had been working in the small Balkan nation of Glendovia to assist US and EU efforts to keep the legitimate government in power over the whole country. I had been chosen for the simple reason that I was from Glendovia, had migrated from it to the United States back when I was a kid. Now, if you haven't heard of Glendovia, I can't say that I blame you. It's pretty easy to not know about Glendovia. We're just a very small country unfortunately squeezed into perhaps the most volatile corner of Europe: the Balkans. Glendovia managed to not get absorbed into Yugoslavia simply because we were too small for Tito to waste his efforts integrating us into his federation, but when Yugoslavia fell apart along ethnic and religious lines, Glendovia sadly could not stop itself from doing the same.

In recent years, Glendovia was once again tearing itself apart, but this time it was along ideological lines. The Glendovian government, the one recognized by the United Nations as the country's legitimate leadership, was only in control of the southern part of the nation. The north had fallen to an entity calling itself the North Glendovian Commune. As far as we could tell, the North Glendovian Commune had no actual government in charge of it; power rested among numerous gangs who had come together for the common cause of doing away with nation-states altogether and operating as a literal free market. This had earned the Communards the classification of anarcho-capitalists. Others simply referred to them as anarchists. The one thing I knew for sure about them was that they were the biggest obstacle in finally restoring peace to the old country.

Barbara's mission in Glendovia was to convince some of the smaller gangs in the north to surrender to the southern government by any means necessary. She hadn't had much success in that objective, as far as her CIA cohorts were concerned, but when she dropped off the grid a few weeks ago, they feared the worst. The Communards had a reputation for treating any and all outsiders as spies and treated them as such. Just a few months before this operation, there had been disturbing news about a tourist couple who had wandered into Communard-held territory where they were captured, tortured, and sadly executed. The Communards' message was clear: don't spy on us or else.

The good news for the CIA was that Barbara didn't appear to have shared the same fate as those tourists. But aside from that we knew little else. And then came reports of a woman matching Barbara's description having been spotted in the town of Koruma. Koruma was a little town with stone churches and brightly painted mosques nestled in the middle of a verdant valley with a blue river in the middle. It looked the kind of place a tourism board would use to advertise their place being a nice place to visit, and in fact Glendovia had done that, putting Koruma on postcards and the covers of travel guides. Koruma really looked like your quaint little tourist attraction town, except for one thing: Koruma was literally just a few kilometers away from the frontline between the southern government and the northern Communards.

That was the good news. The bad news was that three days ago, we had received more intel hinting at a possible Communard attack on Koruma. And that was supposed to be the start of a new offensive against the southerners. If our luck were to run out on us during our search for Barbara, we could be looking for her right in the middle of a war zone.

We worked our leads, running them into the ground or once they paid off to more leads. We still had nothing on Barbara's whereabouts, but on the impending Communard attack on Koruma, we had those in spades. Our most recent lead had led us to Pavle, an officer in the local policija unit. I had impersonated a fellow policeman in order to earn Pavle's trust, or at least get close enough to him to be able to put my Yeerk into his head and reveal everything that he had ever known. However, all this had done was to shrink our window of opportunity to find Barbara before the shit hit the fan.

"What do you mean, I won't like it?" James asked me. "Just cut to the chase, Yassin!"

Yassin (full name Yassin Six-Eight-Nine of the Sulp Niar Pool) made me sigh and shake my head. "I just told you, James," he said. "The Golden Hands are going to move in on Koruma first thing tomorrow morning."

"And what has that got to do with Barbara?" James asked again.

"According to the memories of dear old Pavle here," Yassin said, gesturing at the sleeping policija officer, "a woman matching Barbara's description was last seen entering a warehouse just off to the side of the plaza three days ago. She hasn't come out since."

"And what has that got to do with the Golden Hands attacking Koruma?"

"That same warehouse is the very first thing that the Hands are going to attack once they're in town," Yassin replied. "According to Pavle, that warehouse is a hangout for people all over the left side of the spectrum. Unionists, syndicalists, democratic socialists, socialists, communists, everybody who's ever been a leftie apparently hang out in that warehouse. Now, I don't know what Barbara is doing in such a place or why she even is in there in the first place, but if the Hands find her in there…"

James didn't have to say anything to figure out where the rest of this was headed. "Goddamn it," he muttered. "I hate these goddamned Communards."

"Yeah, join the club, bro," I said. Yassin had handed control back to me while James was processing this new intel. "You know what they're going to do to her if they ever find her in that warehouse."

"Yeah, you don't have to remind me," James shook his head. "What time did you say the attack was going to be?"

"Sometime in the morning," I replied once Yassin had supplied me with the relevant information. "Maybe somewhere along the lines of eight or nine because the Golden Hands want to make a grand show out of everything they do, and they can't do that if they attack at dawn, no matter how much that would have been tactically."

"Damn it," James said again. He then looked at the sleeping Pavle and asked me, "What about him?"

"Ah, let him stay right where he is," I muttered. "Are you sure he's not going to remember anything about tonight?"

"I don't know," James shrugged. "I just gave him the sedative. It's your job—Yassin's job, I mean—to deal with the guy's memories."

A/N: And now for something completely different. I may have missed some, but most of the stories I've seen in fandom about Yeerks and Controllers have been mostly about slice of life stuff. I know my stories with Jen and Yemra have had some action in them but they're still just civilians caught up in some bigger stuff. This story is going to be about a Controller who actually chooses to go into dangerous situations because it's his job to do so. I hope you like it like you do my other stories. Thanks! – GR